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White male pens still busiest

A new five-year study about writer employment in Hollywood shows that the industry is not making any great strides in terms of overcoming racism, sexism and ageism.

Among the companies that made little or no progress in hiring minority or female writers: ABC, NBC, MGM’s film division and Orion. Warner Bros. TV made increases in minority hirings but fell behind in female hirings.

“We’re not making progress,” noted Samantha Shad, chairman of the Women’s Committee of the Writers Guild of America West. “We can’t really say that it’s progress when women are still only making 75 cents on the dollar in earnings compared to white males.” (That figure compares to 62 cents five years ago.)

The WGAW-commissioned report comes on the heels of a recent Screen Actors Guild earnings report that showed women consistently earned less than their male counterparts. Of the $ 1 billion that SAG members earned last year, only one third was earned by women.

In terms of the number of women writers being hired, there has been little growth over the past 20 years. As of 1991, women accounted for 22%-25% of those employed in television and 16%-17% of those working in film. Yet women have consistently accounted for 20%-25% of the industry’s workforce in the last two decades.

Minorities fared a little better in earnings, making a median 79 cents on the dollar, as compared to 54 cents in 1987, but the number of minorities being hired falls far below that of women.

As of 1991, working minority writers made up 4% — or 309 people — out of the 7,339 current active WGAW members. Yet minority writers experienced a 60% unemployment rate, compared to 48% unemployment for white males.

“There’s nothing new here,” said Carol Munday Lawrence, chair of the WGAW’s Committee of Black Writers. “The substantive change in hirings that we’ve been looking for hasn’t taken place. And it’s obviously not going to take place without aggressive action.”

It also appears that Hollywood is beginning to push writers over the age of 50 out of the job market, according to the report. The number of writers over the age of 50 accounted for only 24% of those working in TV and film in 1982; that percentage dropped to 17% by 1991.

Ironically, the number of writers in their 40s increased during the ’80s, which researchers chalked up to the aging of baby boomers.

The 1993 Hollywood Writers’ Report, the third such statistical report released in the last seven years, was compiled by William and Denise Bielby, sociologists and professors at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Witnesses used for this report have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission for the commission’s own five-year study into racial and ethnic tensions in the United States. The commission has asked for the report, but it has to be submitted under oath and notarized before being sent to the panel.

Among the major studios, Disney and Paramount showed the greatest improvement in employing women writers, going from 16% (of the writers employed) at both studios in 1987 to 22% at Disney and 23% at Paramount in 1991. Yet Disney continued to pay women substantially less than men. By 1991, women were receiving 78 cents on the white male dollar.

At Paramount’s film division, the earnings stats for white males were three times those for female writers until 1989. But in 1991, women’s earnings jumped, and exceeded the median earnings of white males by 11%.

Warner Bros. paid women more as of 1990, 90 cents on the dollar by that year. At Columbia, MGM and Universal, the gender pay gap widely fluctuated from year to year.

For instance, at Universal, women were paid 51 cents on the dollar in 1987, then the median zoomed up to $ 1.45 (for every dollar paid to white males) in 1988. It fell to 66 cents on the dollar in 1989, rose back to 90 cents in 1990, and fell to 50 cents in 1991.

In television, women earned a median 77 cents on the white male dollar as of 1991.

One area where women writers reached full parity was network-produced programming.

While Disney TV made big strides in hiring women, with 29% of the studio’s writers being female as of 1991 (compared to 19% in 1987), it nonetheless paid women substantially less. Median earnings for white males were charted at $ 55, 449 as of ’91, compared to $ 30,000 for women.

MTM was recorded with the worst pay gap between men and women, with women earning only 40 cents for each dollar earned by white males in 1987. And that number declined to 24 cents on the dollar in 1991.

As for minority hires, Columbia and Warners both exceeded the 4% average, while Disney and Universal rose from either no employment or token minority employment in 1987 to five or more at each studio as of 1991.

The studios that showed declines in minority hirings were Paramount, which went from five minority writers in 1989 to one in 1990 and 1991; and MGM, which employed no minority film writers in 1987 and 1991, and just one in each of the intervening years.

In television, Fox TV leads the pack in terms of minority hirings at 8%. Warner Bros. TV had 28 minority writers working in 1991, as compared to only four in 1987.

Reeves Entertainment and Spelling hired no minority writers in the 1990-91 season.

Hirings over the age of 50 fell from 26% to 18% in television from ’87 to ’91 and from 21% to 14% in film during the same period.

Writers over 50 have practically no presence on series aired on the Fox network, receiving only 3% of teleplay credits.